Across northern Philippines where Inabel is produced, the same handwoven cloth is also referred to as Abel, Enabel, Abel Iloco, and Ilocos Inabel. The multiple names can be confusing to the uninitiated, and indeed, even locals are sometimes unsure why there are different names for the textile.
So, what’s in a name? While there isn’t a lot of information out there that correctly defines Inabel or Abel, we have pieced together what we think is the definitive guide to understanding the various name versions of this traditional cloth. But before diving in, let’s step back with a brief overview of where Inabel comes from and the textile attributes that distinguish it from the other indigenous textiles of the country.
The northern half of Luzon, the country’s largest and northernmost island group, is divided vertically into three regions namely the Ilocos region to the west (facing the South China Sea), the mountainous Cordillera Administrative Region at the center, and the Cagayan Valley to the east.
Of the three regions, the Ilocos was the first to be established and widely populated due to its accessibility by land and sea. The Ilocano language, culture, and customs have long existed prior to the arrival of the Spanish settlers in the 16th century.
Primarily through migration of the Ilocanos to the Cordillera and Cagayan Valley regions, the Ilocano dialect is shared by all. In addition to the language and customs brought by the early Ilocano migrants, their long-established textile culture was also carried over. The Ilocanos, ever practical and resourceful, wanted to ensure that clothing and home accessory needs, as well as an additional source of livelihood, were met. Thus, the Ilocano wooden pedal frame loom also found its home in the Cordillera and Cagayan Valley communities particularly in the provinces of Abra, Benguet, and Isabela where weaving centers exist.
For the Ilocano, handweaving textiles using the wooden loom is a part of life’s rituals and everyday activities. Thus, handwoven cloths are a staple in births (baby blankets), home and work life (shirts, trousers, blankets, towels), and even death (death shroud). Then, as now, the characteristic attributes of the handwoven textiles that are produced on the Ilocano loom are their sturdy construction (well woven, with straight, neat edges), stark simplicity of design, and functionality.
Dr. Norma Respicio is a noted author and historian whose fields of expertise are the history and aesthetics of traditional art forms, particularly Philippine textiles. She defines Inabel as the precise term for woven cloth produced on the Ilocano wooden pedal loom and embodying the characteristic attributes of being sturdy, simple, and functional.
What about Abel?
Abel, on the other hand, can mean three things: a) the generic term for a handloom-woven cloth; b) a setup of yarns being worked on a handloom; and c) the process of weaving.
Inabel vs Abel:
Technically speaking, any handwoven cloth produced on an Ilocano wooden loom should be referred to as Inabel and the process or act of weaving on an Ilocano wooden loom is called Abel.
In practice, however, locals commonly use the term Abel to refer to both a handloom-woven cloth and the act of weaving, while Inabel is used to refer exclusively to the handwoven cloth. In Ilocos, the woven cloth is more specifically referred to as Abel Iloco to signify its provenance. Similarly, Ilocos Inabel refers to Inabel cloths that hail from the Ilocos region and exhibiting characteristics definitive of the textile culture of the Ilocos. In the end, Inabel and Abel are used interchangeably to refer to the handwoven Ilocano cloth.
So, what about Enabel?
The handwoven cloth produced in Isabela province of Cagayan Valley using the Ilocano wooden loom is called Enabel. While Isabela weaving communities using the Ilocano loom are much fewer than those in the Ilocos, the craft has endured and Enabel cloths with distinctive colors and patterns are a testament to this legacy.
But whether it is Inabel, Abel, or Enabel, this traditional textile of northern Philippines stands out for its enduring qualities of sturdy construction, good design, and everyday functionality. Check out our collection of distinctive Inabel home and personal accessories at www.inabelshop.com.